STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
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“The ‘90s, in particular, is where all the barriers of music dropped. (On the radio) you heard Mariah Carey with Blink 182, and of course Sugar Ray. ‘And then, we’ll get into some Alanis Morissette …’ It was the time of Lollapalooza and the crossing of genres, and kids went out and bought music,” said Mark McGrath, frontman of late ‘90s/early 2000s hitmakers Sugar Ray.
It was that kind of looking back at a perceived golden age that led McGrath and Everclear singer/guitarist Art Alexakis to create the Summerland Tour in 2012. It was indeed a blast from the past as Sugar Ray and Everclear recruited their contemporaries in Marcy Playground, Lit and Gin Blossoms to go on the road with them.
But after what McGrath described in a phone interview as “a successful first run,” the two band leaders differed on who should be on the next tour. Whereas McGrath wanted to branch out into incorporating other kinds of music, like hip-hop and R&B acts Naughty By Nature or En Vogue, Alexakis felt it was a smarter idea to keep Summerland guitar-oriented.
The singers parted ways on friendly terms, and for a few years there was enough room in the concert marketplace to support both an Everclear-headlined Summerland Tour and McGrath’s “Under the Sun” ‘90s tour starring Sugar Ray. But the truth of the matter, he said, is these package tours involve a lot of hard work dealing with multiple managers, agents, etc. “It felt good to join a tour and not do too much heavy lifting,” he said of being back in the Summerland fold with Everclear, Sponge and Lit.
McGrath flashed back to Sugar Ray’s first album — 1995’s “Lemonade and Brownies,” which he said made wild stylistic shifts between R&B and rap-metal. “We started out as a cover band. When we got signed to Atlantic (Records), we only had three songs. We were terrible musicians … and we couldn’t write songs,” he said.
It was during that time when Sugar Ray was sent out on the road with, what now seems like extremely unlikely tourmates, heavy rock acts Korn and Deftones. That was when they learned more about their instruments. “Oh, that’s a D-minor (chord)!,” laughed McGrath. “Sublime really set the bar for all of us. They were doing these 25-minute dub jams.”
“We always loved The Beach Boys and we always loved reggae. The melody was always in us … and it just needed to be developed,” he said of Sugar Ray finding its pop sound, which began with the album “Floored” and the top 10 smash “Fly.”
Radio and MTV airplay led to the singer appearing shirtless on the cover of “Rolling Stone” (“Nobody wants to see that anymore,” the 48-year-old McGrath joked) and being named “People Magazine”’s “Sexiest Rocker” of 1998.
After Sugar Ray’s run on the pop charts ended circa 2003, McGrath carved out a regular string of acting/hosting roles, among them: Netflix’s “Lady Dynamite,” Fox’s “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” VH-1’s “Rock & Roll Jeopardy!” and “Sharknado 2.” “For every Marky Mark who becomes a Mark Wahlberg, there’s a Vanilla Ice. With every role I take, I ask: ‘Am I gonna hurt this?’ But with ‘Sharknado,’ you can’t hurt that,” he said, adding that he turned down the role Matt LeBlanc played in the movie version of “Charlie’s Angels” because he didn’t feel he was a strong enough actor for the part.
When asked what he thought of Donald Trump’s run for the White House, after being “fired” during Season 4 of “Celebrity Apprentice,” he said he believes Trump was originally only half-serious about running for President, just out there to “increase his brand.”
“I don’t think he thought it would last till November. I’m as fascinated by it as everybody else. It’s a reality show come to life. He was always kind to me, even though I lost a battle of wits to Gary Busey in the boardroom,” said McGrath.
As far as being niche marketed as ‘90s nostalgia, he said that he’s accepted that music is cyclical, has no regrets and is happy doing what he does. “Not every band can be a legacy band. I wanted to be Aerosmith; I wanted to be The Eagles. We all swung for the fences,” he said of his tourmates in Summerland and Under the Sun.